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review 2018-01-15 21:17
The Infinite Future by Tim Wirkus
The Infinite Future: A Novel - Tim Wirkus
The Night Ocean - Paul La Farge

The Infinite Future involves nesting stories: There is a fictional 'Tim Wirkus' who receives this manuscript out of the blue from a distant acquaintance. The manuscript is the story of how the acquaintance, Danny, uncovers a literary mystery with two other people that leads them on a altogether different kind of spiritual quest. Danny begins as a former Morman missionary and financially strapped would-be author who has run afoul of the thugs of the religious-fiction industry. In Brazil, while doing research for a doomed novel he is befriended by a librarian, Sergio, who introduces him to an obscure Brazilian sf writer - Salgado-MacKenzie - who left hints of a trans-formative novel, 'The Infinite Future', and vanished without a trace. On their search for more answers they meet Harriet, an excommunicated Morman historian who had corresponded with the author some years before.

The three of them have little in common, but they are inextricably drawn together by what Salgado-Mackenzie's work makes them feel. Each finds themselves hinging their different hopes on what they may find when they track down the elusive author and the manuscript for his masterpiece. What they discover is too good a story to reveal here. The second half of the book is the novel-within-the-novel 'The Infinite Future'. Readers can judge for themselves its worth.

Along with Paul LaFarge's The Night Ocean, The Infinite Future is inaugurating a new generation of genre-fiction that is examining itself and pushing into new boundaries. This is an unusual book, but that is its primary strength.

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review 2018-01-14 03:21
The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan
The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home - Denise Kiernan

Biltmore is an enormous Gilded Age estate in North Carolina. It was built on the orders of George Washington Vanderbilt II in the 1880s-90s as a summer retreat and became the largest private home in America. Biltmore is situated on a plot of land to match, over 10 square miles, the bulk of which is forest and now a National Park.  The house itself, astonishingly, remains in private hands. How this came to pass makes for an entertaining bit of history.

I hadn't known much about the origins of Biltmore or its role in the early environmental movement and was impressed. Kiernan veers away from the story of the house to dwell on Vanderbilt family drama, but its to be expected. Not many people just want to hear about stone korbels and inspiration for plasterwork. The Biltmore Vanderbilts lived interesting lives, Edith (George's wife) in particular with her involvement in an Arts & Crafts cottage industry around the estate. The other family members, especially where it seemed Kiernan had to fill gaps of information with speculation such as with Cornelia Vanderbilt (the original heiress), was less interesting. Thanks to this book, Biltmore and its gardens and the park surrounding it have risen above the 'cottages' of Rhode Island as a must-visit for me.

The fact that Biltmore, such a white elephant from the beginning, survived intact through a century as destructive as the last one is remarkable.

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text 2018-01-10 15:20
Beneath the Sugar Sky, Wayward Children #3 by Seanan McGuire
Beneath the Sugar Sky - Seanan McGuire

Beneath the Sugar Sky is the third book in the 'Wayward Children' series, but this is my first experience with Seanan McGuire's work.

Cora is a recent arrival at Eleanor West's home for Wayward Children. It is a boarding school for children who have come back through the looking glass or the wardrobe or the pond in the back garden and can't quite adjust to everyday reality. They desperately want to go back. Sometimes they do.

Cora's world was underwater, she lived as a mermaid and participated in wonderful adventures, but now she's back in a world where she's self-conscious about her body and obsesses a lot about what everyone must be thinking about her, the fat girl.

So she's self-absorbed. But, she is a teenager.

At the school Cora is beginning to settle in, despite the fact many of the other children are recovering from a horrific experience where a few of their peers murdered a girl to make their doorway reappear, and make friends. Suddenly, a girl in a gown made of cake drops from the sky and demands to see her mother. Her mother, Sumi, was the young girl who was murdered. She can't possibly have had a child so grown up.

McGuire takes us through the logic and unlogic of magical worlds and we follow five teens on a quest to bring Rini's mother back from the dead and save more than a few lives in the process.

I loved it. I read this in a single sitting and must at some point check out the previous books in the series, it has a fantastically diverse cast and settings and straddles horror and fantasy while maintaining a sense of wonder that's often missing from genre novels these days.

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review 2018-01-02 04:10
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
Wishtree - Katherine Applegate

Wishtree is the story of Red, an Oak tree who has served as the a Wishtree for her neighborhood for many years. A wishtree is a tradition where people may write a wish on a cloth once a year and hang it on the branches of a tree in the hopes that it will come true.

Red has never actively participated in the granting of a wish before, but she is touched when a young girl, recently moved into the neighborhood, wishes for friendship. Red witnesses how the young girl faces prejudice and indifference on the street and, when threatened with being taken down as a nuisance, Red decides to take action while she can.

This story could easily have been saccharine drivel, but Applegate's writing delivers the sentiment without making it too cloying. At its heart Wishtree is a novel about compassion and acting on our better instincts and refusing to let the bad behavior of some dictate the future for everyone.

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review 2018-01-02 03:42
Vacationland by John Hodgeman
Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches - John Hodgman

John Hodgeman throws away centuries of WASP tradition and tells everyone what he's <i>feeling</i>. The silver lining is that people can finally talk about how horrible Maine is. The water is freezing, the beaches are sharp, the lakes are bottomed with Lovecraftian horrors, and the people hate you.

Despite all of that, Hodgman carries over some of the charm of the region into his humorous essays. Where he falls apart is the whole white privilege thing. It doesn't matter how often you deprecatingly point it out, there's still something distasteful about reading about the problems of having enough money to hold onto additional houses for sentimental reasons.

There are also some problematic stories about recreational pot, which is like listening to someone talk about how much beer they drank in college, and other stories that need something more than what Hodgeman put into them to make them rise above their subject matter. That is a super-vague criticism, but its all I've got at the moment.

The positives are that even in those downer-essays there are nuggets of humor and insight that made me roar with laughter. Hodgeman is a funny guy, and this is a successful funny book.

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